So what’s new? Mr Jover Chew, owner of a shop called Mobile Air at Sim Lim Square, attempted to pay a S$1,010 refund ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal in coins to a customer. Separately a Vietnamese tourist, Pham Van Thoai had gone down on his knees to beg for a refund from Jover Chew. These are not isolated cases. His shop, Mobile Air, had 25 complaints lodged against it with Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) between August and October.
In a Facebook post, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin expressed shock at the behaviour shown in the Sim Lim case and said the Government should explore ways to “strengthen or adjust” the laws to deal with cases where individuals face hurdles in seeking resolution. CASE is also investigating.
But the people can’t wait. Since the incidents made their rounds on social media, indignant netizens had taken matters into their own hands, making pranks calls and ordering pizzas using Jover Chew’s particulars. Some have even used crowdfunding to raise money to compensate a Vietnamese victim. It’s all very fun to watch – Jover Chew receiving a month’s supply of pizzas which he didn’t order, but this obviously constitutes harassment and the perpetrators could get into trouble. What’s more, I think this crowdfunding exercise may be uncalled for. We’re talking about an iphone – a luxury item here and not some life-saving medicine. If he could afford to buy it, he could afford to lose it. I’m sure many Vietnamese tourists have lost a lot more than this at our casinos. Would we donate to them if they get down on their knees and cry?
By right, we have a perfectly legal, reasonable and non-violent way to settle scores with such errant merchants. We badmouth them, stop patronising them and put them out of business. With the help of social media, word of mouth goes viral. Why do we still need the authorities to step in with regulations and enforcement? Why can’t we just rely on the power of the discerning consumer? That’s because some popular shops run by the worst kind of scoundrels will remain popular. This is especially true with makan places. Our weakness lies in our addiction.
I was a regular at this vegetarian makan place at Block 801 Tampines Ave 4. The place is called Zi Zai Vegetarian 自在齋. They take up two units of shop space on that block. An entire unit is used as a kitchen and the adjoining unit is the dining hall. There are tables placed just outside the corridor too. You occupy a table, place your order at the counter in front of the kitchen and make payment first. Depending on the size of the crowd and the popularity of the item you’re ordering, the wait can take as long as 30 mins! The eatery dishes out nasi lemak, kway chap, wanton mee and their very famous roti prata. You can check online for all the praises Zi Zai got for their crispy, chewy prata. By about 9.00am every Sunday morning, they will be packed to the brim and their cash register will be ringing non-stop. Undoubtedly, business is booming and Zi Zai Vegetarian now has 4 outlets in Singapore.
I have a rather cynical piece of advice for those looking for good food – look for the rudest hawkers. Zi Zai Vegetarian is one of them. In the past, the dining area had such greasy floors you had to watch your every step. Recently, they renovated the dining area, air-con the place and used some pretty nifty lighting and interior decor to give the place a touch of elegance. But the rude and grouchy auntie taking orders at the counter remains unchanged. I just realised this morning, that I’ve become so addicted to the wanton mee at Zi Zai Vegetarian that I was willing to overlook the greasy floor and auntie’s bad attitude. The same goes with many foodies out there. As long as your food is good, you can insult their entire ancestral tree and they’ll still come back for more. Indeed, we’re dealing with addiction and some rehab may be in order.
About a month ago, I visited Zi Zai Vegetarian at Tampines. I ordered a nasi lemak, a kway chap and 2 pieces of prata. I was told by the auntie that it would take 20 mins. We ended up waiting for 30 mins. My hyperactive younger son was very impatient. He kept going to the kitchen side to watch the Indian cook flip the pratas and at one point, the auntie said: “You think stand here no need to wait meh? Stand here also must wait what.”
I wasn’t keen on going back anymore, but this morning, the Dowager insisted on having the kway chap. We were early this morning. Seeing that only 3 tables were occupied, I tried to console myself that same probably won’t happen again. I went to place my order. When I said “roti prata”, auntie looked sternly at me and said “15 mins”.
“Really, 15 mins only?” I asked, suppressing my sarcasm.
“Agar only hor!” Auntie snapped. “Don’t say we late if not 15 mins hor.”
I was cured of my addiction instantly. I wanted to tell her that 30 mins is not agar when you say 15 mins, but then, I had to look after the needs of the addicts in my family. Too late. Auntie looked so mad that I was worried that she might spit on my food before delivering.
Would you believe that with only 3 tables occupied, the wanton mee and kway chap still took 10 minutes to arrive? The prata came much later and we received one prata short. Soon, the place was filling up and the other tables who ordered later than we did were already getting their pratas. I had an urge to make a scene at the counter. Those of you who know me in the infantry know how unpleasant it is when I raise my voice, but I decided to let the folks deliver that last prata to an empty table. It’s not the money, idiots. And I don’t care how rich you are. To me, you’re a bunch of worthless Alamak with no ethos whatsoever.
Unfortunately, we can’t set any regulations to “culturise” this aspect of the food business. And businesses like these will continue to thrive as long as nobody does anything about his/her addiction.